Monday, April 22, 2024

Bullpen Concerns Open Spots For Cubs Pitchers


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Making predictions, at any point, will eventually make you look dumb. Hey, that’s me right now after thinking I knew who the bullpen locks would be on Opening Day for the Cubs and me believing in those for less than a week.

It just goes to show you that things can change in a split second during spring training. An injury pops up, a guy or two aren’t progressing as fast as they need to, other guys are struggling, and bam, the bullpen picture looks completely different than it did a week ago.

So, here’s who I thought were 100% locks to make the Opening Day bullpen.

That’s 75% of the bullpen that I thought was set, but now, you can take out Keegan Thompson and Brandon Hughes as guarantees. The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma wrote about some of the bullpen concerns on Saturday.

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Via The Athletic.

The spring has raised questions that didn’t seem to exist a month ago. Keegan Thompson is sitting in the low 90s and in general looking nothing like his best self — so much so that some in the organization question whether using one of his two remaining options could make sense as he continues to build up. Lefty Brandon Hughes has not looked good either.

You can read more about Thompson’s spring training so far in the link below. The right-handed pitcher is barely hitting the low 90s with his fastball after averaging nearly 95mph when he was in the bullpen to end the 2022 season.

As for Hughes, the left-hander wasn’t seen in game action down in Arizona for about a week and a half into Cactus League play and although the results in March don’t matter, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he hasn’t been sharp in his appearances.

Like Thompson, Hughes knew he’d be on the team in the offseason, so his ramp up process was different leading up to spring training. Hughes also threw 57.2 innings in his rookie season with the Cubs and when you combine his time in the minors, he tossed 74.1 innings in 2022, which were 32 more innings than he’s ever pitched in a year as a pro.

So, if Thompson and Hughes are now question marks in the bullpen mix, then a few guys are definitely knocking down the door to make the Opening Day roster.

We have already read about the Cubs liking Michael Rucker, while Julian Merryweather has been impressive in spring training. But again, I’ll remain confident in Merryweather making the team.

But there are a few other guys in spring training battling for one of the final spots in the bullpen, including lefty Ryan Borucki and Mark Leiter Jr. By the way, I haven’t forgotten about him, at this point Javier Assad is penciled onto the Opening Day roster, too. At least in my book. Someone share my book with David Ross and Jed Hoyer. Thanks.

As for Borucki, the lefty has made a strong case to earn a bullpen job in spring training. He only trails Hayden Wesneski in strikeouts from Cubs pitchers, racking up 12 punch outs in 6.2 innings.

In his last relief appearance, Borucki pitched 1.1 scoreless innings against the White Sox, allowing one single while striking out two batters.

Meanwhile, Mark Leiter Jr. was DFA’d in the offseason, but re-signed as a non-roster invitee to spring training. In 2022, the righty was fantastic out of the bullpen, recording a 2.87 ERA in 53.1 innings as a reliever. Despite being a right-handed pitcher, he was incredible against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .571 OPS.

The only real issue when it comes to adding Borucki or Leiter to the Opening Day roster is they are currently not on the 40-man roster, so the inclusion of either one would require the Cubs to let go of someone else.

So, now less than 10 days until the start of the regular season, the bullpen picture isn’t as clear as it was just a few days ago.


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Cleo Kam
Cleo Kam
Mar 21, 2023 1:14 pm


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